re: Should I Italicize Internal Dialogue in Close Third Person?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Point of View by

Dear Editor…

In close third person, what are the best ways to handle internal dialog? Italics, “she thought” tags, or just let the reader figure it out?

Sincerely,
Stephanie

Dear Stephanie…

In close third person POV (also called third person limited) the story is told from the protagonist’s perspective but not in her direct words. “She entered the cafeteria, then froze. The place reeked of burnt Tater Tots and fryer grease. I’m so going to barf. She spun on her heel and left.” My italics make it clear that the brief change in the narrative is internal dialogue. Sure, readers could probably work that out because of the shift from “she” to “I”—but why make readers decipher anything when acceptable technical aid is available? YA fiction favors italics to make things easy on young readers. You’re more likely to find thought tags (“she thought”) in adult fiction, where italics are often considered visual distractions. Choose based on your style and your audience’s needs, but do choose something. Let readers focus on the story.

Happy writing!
The Editor

11 Comments

  1. I totally agree, using italics means the reader can use less brain power as they can see in an instant that it’s internal thought. The less distractions helps keep their head in the story and doesn’t interrupt the ‘flow’ of writing. I have been told though to use as least italics as possible though. Just for major thoughts. Don’t have paragraph after paragraph of the stuff or this can be distracting to.

    • If someone finds themselves using internal thoughts that often, perhaps a shift to 1st person narrative is in order. Something to experiment with, anyway.

  2. I just dealt with this issue last night. I’m editing a limited 3rd person where I italicized internal thoughts in the first person. My beta reader told me I couldn’t do that. It’s nice to know I can. Thanks!

  3. This is the kind of advice I needed. I seem to gravitate to third person limited when I write, but probably don’t use enough internal monologue. Thanks! Now, off I go to my manuscript.

    • Correct. As in first person the whole thing is basically the main character talking. So Deborah’s example above: I entered the cafeteria above, then froze. I’m so going to barf. I spun on my heels and left.

      I like looking at books by the publisher I’d like to submit to and see how they handle both first person and third person in their books.

  4. I actually came across an internal dialogue that was not italicized or had single quotes or tags of “She/he thought.”It was in the book, CREEPERS.

    It WAS confusing to me. I wrote the author, David Morrel and he said that the publisher chose to put it in that way. Even an adult book, in my humble opinion, should have internal dialogue set off in some way. The book was perfect in every way until the one incident that carried through the entire paragraph or two.

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